'The Day of the Rabblement', an essay by James Joyce


‘The Day of the Rabblement’, written by James Joyce when he was 19 years old and attending University College, Dublin, concerns the state of Irish theatre and the importance of artistic freedom.

What does Joyce argue in the essay?

Joyce was stirred by a group of fellow university students – the ‘rabble’ of the title – signing a letter of protest on political and religious grounds against the Irish Literary Theatre’s first performance of The Countess Cathleen by W B Yeats. Joyce critiques the Irish Literary Theatre for its response to the protest which, Joyce claims, saw them bow to public pressure and ‘prejudice’, and become ‘shy of presenting Ibsen, Tolstoy or Hauptmann’. In Joyce’s opinion, the work of these three European writers was profound, innovative and worthy of attention.

Significantly, the essay shows Joyce upholding the principle of artistic freedom and condemning censorship in all its forms – an outlook that he would maintain throughout his career. Joyce claims that the artist should never ‘court the favour of the multitude’. The artist’s primary aim is to stay true to his or her vision: ‘Until he has freed himself from the mean influences about him… no man is an artist at all’.

Why was Joyce so concerned with European dramatists?

Joyce was first drawn to continental drama when he was an adolescent. He was inspired, in particular, by the works of Henrik Ibsen. As Joyce alludes to in his essay, Ibsen had faced public backlash in his home country of Norway.

For Joyce, it was crucial to open up the Irish theatre scene to European writers because they offered the promise of artistic development. ‘A nation which never advanced so far as a miracle-play affords no literary model to the artist, and he must look abroad’. Joyce concludes that the Irish Literary Theatre, ‘by its surrender to the trolls has cut itself adrift from the line of advancement’.

Publication history

Ironically, given that Joyce attacks censorship, the university’s magazine, St Stephen’s, refused to print the essay, together with F J C Skeffington’s ‘A Forgotten Aspect of the University Question’, which concerned the rights of women students. Undaunted, Joyce and Skeffington published their pieces independently as Two Essays.

Full title:
Two Essays. A Forgotten Aspect of the University Question, by F. J. C. Skeffington; and The Day of the Rabblement, by James A. Joyce
1901, Dublin, Ireland
Gerrard Bros.
F J C Skeffington, James Joyce
Usage terms
Public Domain
Held by
British Library

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